Please note this information becoming available soon before OSMRE will present its rough draft of the EIS for Peabody Energy's "life of mine" lease to continue to strip mine coal at Black Mesa. Be cognizant of this information when making comments during the new comment period that should start some time in April 2006 for 60 days after this report is made available.
|Off the hook
Proposed settlement releases Peabody from penalty for damages to resources
| By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK — A proposed settlement agreement to keep Peabody Western Coal Co. operating on Black Mesa and return Mohave Generating Station to service would give the feds control over the C-Aquifer project and dismiss all claims against Peabody for injury to groundwater in the lease area.
A March 7 confidential draft document of recommended noneconomic terms proposed in the Mohave mediation between the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Peabody, and the owners of Mohave Generating Station and Navajo Generating Station assumes the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will operate the C-Aquifer Project, subject to reimbursement of Mohave owners.
The proposed agreement also calls for approval by Congress of Navajo and Hopi coal leases and grants under the "Navajo-Hopi Coal Leasing Settlement Act."
The draft memorandum states that the proposed noneconomic terms represent the agreed result of the mediation but that there are no assurances those terms will be adopted by any of the parties.
After execution of the proposed terms, Mohave and Navajo Generating Station owners would make a one-time grant of $150,000 to both the Navajo and Hopi tribes "to be used for social service programs for which funding has been reduced as a result of the shut-down of Mohave Generating Station operations."
The proposed agreement would allow Mohave, located in Nevada, to use Navajo-Aquifer water for backup purposes, limited to the amount in an N-Aquifer Bank. Terms of the N-Aquifer Bank call for 8,000 acre feet upon Mohave's return to service, with an "annual increase to balance of 1,500 afy (acre feet per year) for the first six years and 1,000 afy thereafter."
The maximum balance at any one time would be 18,000 acre feet with maximum annual withdrawals of 5,000 afy.
Peabody estimates it will use 500 afy of N-Aquifer water for well maintenance, domestic uses at the Black Mesa and Kayenta mines, and the Many Mules Project, which could establish a local utility on Black Mesa akin to Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.
The 500 afy pumped by Peabody would not be deducted from the N-Aquifer Bank balance and would not be subject to the proposed surcharges of between $1,500 and $2,000 an acre foot per year for N-Aquifer Bank water use.
Instead, Peabody will pay a non-surcharge royalty rate of $750 per acre foot for its use of N-Aquifer water. The company's draw on N-Aquifer water for the Kayenta mine would not be limited to amounts in the N-Aquifer Bank and would not be deducted from the bank, according to the draft.
The company's use of water from surface impoundments within the Peabody Coal lease area for Mohave use would not be limited by the settlement agreement.
Mohave owners also could obtain up to 5,000 afy of water
in any calendar year from C-Aquifer wells located on the Hopi Hart Ranch
and would pay the Hopi Tribe $880 per acre foot for the first 667 acre
feet used annually for Mohave and $500 per acre foot for any remaining
Prior to execution of any definitive agreements, the tribes will conduct a due diligence review of Peabody's past operations as deemed necessary "to grant the waivers of certain natural resources damages claims ... "
Peabody's responsibility is to "respond in good faith to reasonable requests by the Tribes in their due diligence process."
A Mohave Extension Option Payment would be increased from $1 million to $3 million, payable to the tribes upon execution of the Definitive Agreements. Other extension option payments will be made quarterly and are not retroactive to periods predating execution of the Definitive Agreements.
Mohave and Navajo Generating Station owners will establish education funds of $250,000 per tribe to be used for scholarships, educational programs, or other activities related to the preservation of tribal cultures.
The tribes will agree not to grant third parties any rights to use the C-Aquifer or the N-Aquifer that would interfere with Mohave's owners' ability to make the "Decision to Proceed."
The proposed agreement calls for execution by the Secretary of the Interior of grants for the C-Aquifer Project and Black Mesa Pipeline; approval by the Secretary of leases for the C-Aquifer Project and amendments to Peabody coal leases.
Decision to proceed
Additionally, Mohave will pay the Navajo Nation $1.725 million and the Hopi Tribe $1.275 for Black Mesa Pipeline rights-of-way. Navajo would be paid $2.5 million annual in lieu of taxes and the Hopi, $1.25 million. The Hopi Tribe also would be paid $2.5 million for a J-23 right-of-way.
Should Mohave decide to proceed, the tribes "shall cooperate with construction of the C-Aquifer Project," with Mohave owners loaning the Hopi up to $5 million at 5 percent interest to construct Hopi Hart Ranch wells, connection of the wells to the C-Aquifer Pipeline, and upsizing of the pipeline.
The Hopi would repay the loan in five equal annual installments beginning in 2015.
The document states that the money also would be used to design, construct and operate the C-Aquifer Project well field, which would have a capacity of 7,000 afy.
Of that amount, 1,000 afy would be dedicated to Navajo Nation on-reservation domestic and municipal uses "and up to (amount not stated) afy for the 1.5 MW El Paso Natural Gas Waste Heat Generation Project to provide electric service in the Leupp area."
Either tribe may terminate the Definitive Agreements if Mohave owners have not decided to proceed by July 1, 2008, otherwise, the Definitive Agreements would end July 1, 2026.
Dismissal of litigation
If there is no return to service, all payments received by the tribes would be credited toward any judgment from the RICO lawsuit the Navajo Nation filed against Peabody on June 18, 1999, in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The complaint alleges that Peabody, two customers and two employees jointly participated in unlawful activity to obtain favorable coal lease amendments. The Nation is seeking actual damages of at least $600 million, which could be tripled under the RICO counts, punitive damages of at least $1 billion, a determination that Peabody's coal leases for Kayenta and Black Mesa mines have terminated due to Peabody's breach of those leases, and a reformation of the two coal leases to adjust the royalty rate up to 20 percent.
The Hopi filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit in March 2000, alleging seven claims, including fraud.
If Mohave owners do not complete the Navajo Well Field or the C-Aquifer Pipeline, and instead transfer it to the tribes and they complete the projects, or the projects are transferred "to or by the federal government in trust for the tribes," all money spent by Mohave owners on the projects would be credited against any judgment, as would money spent to complete the Hopi Hart Ranch well-field infrastructure.
The proposed agreement also would place a $35 million cap on the cumulative damages liability of each tribe, MGS and NGS owners, and Peabody.
Settlement of claimsShould the RICO Suit be dismissed, the tribes and the United States, as trustee of the tribes, "will waive and release any and all claims against APS, Southern California Edison, Salt River Project, Nevada Power, Tucson Electric Power, and LADWP for injury to underground water caused by, or resulting from the withdrawal of underground water from wells located within the surface area leased to Peabody" from Feb. 1, 1964, through and including the effective date of the Navajo-Hopi Coal Leasing Settlement Act, whether the injury occurs within or outside the boundaries of the coal leases.
The tribes would not be able to establish any new or revised taxes or special tax districts that apply to Peabody Coal leases in connection with the operation of Black Mesa Mine or the C-Aquifer Project. The tribes also could not exercise any criminal jurisdiction over Mohave owners, Peabody, any non-Indian employee, officer or agent of the MGS owners.
The tribes would be required to allow the owners of the coal slurry pipeline to abandon the pipeline in place after they have been purged of coal and slurry water.
"To the extent the federal government agrees to operate the C-Aquifer Project, the scope of any regulatory contractual provisions incorporated into the Definitive Agreements shall be in accordance with federal law," the draft states.
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